Letter To Ferguson

Dear Ferguson,

I ache for you today. My heart aches to the point that I’m in a strange sort physical pain. The prophet would say I’m travailing, the cynic would say I’m wasting my time. And me? I’m not even sure what to think. But I have to say something today. Let me be corrected tomorrow, but let me not be silent today.

I recognize pain when I see it. Pain on the face of a community that has lost sense of herself, of how normal is supposed to feel. A community that has been thrust before the national eye and raped by every possible opinion, poll and plank of political propaganda possible.

The ache I have prompts me to a form of prayer. Not really with words, because I don’t know exactly what to pray. But with groanings.

I’m groaning today at the talking heads that will forget the taste of your flesh by the time they’re next meal has arrived. For whatever reason, we trust them to regurgitate our nourishment on command. Yours just happened to be the plat du jour. And I’m sorry.

I’m groaning for the beautiful person that’s picking up the litter this morning along your sidewalks. No video cameras catching his or her act of service. No one championing his or her heart to see healing brought to your town; they themselves don’t even know what to do, so they start with the only act they can think off: to make Ferguson beautiful again, one scrap at a time.

I’m groaning for a black family that lost their son. Of all people not to fault for an emotional response, it’s them. And yet their vision has cleared to desire something that smacks of the divine. I’m groaning for a white family that now must always watch over their shoulder, sharing in what so many black families already walk in everyday.

I’m groaning for your leaders, both spiritual and civic. Asking God to grant them immense wisdom for the long road ahead. I’m pleading with the Lord for renewed grace. For favor with one another as the spiritual try to emulate Christ, and the civic try to embody discretion.

I’m groaning, most of all, at the community of faith outside of your town. I’m sorry that in many places she too has lost her sense of identity when it comes to you, Ferguson. Where so many of her leaders seem to be silent, I find overwhelming numbers of her congregants willing to speak out of step with that of her Betrothed. They’ve failed to pray for even ten concerted minutes for you, and yet their proficiency at small-time publishing entitles them to profess their allegiance whatever emotion is on tap.

They’ve shown that their affluent position has clouded their judgement, has created a fog over the Christ that granted paradise to the thief and washed the feet of a murderer. They can’t even spell “indictment,” nor do they recognize the bitter knife they plunge into humanity when they use “white” or “black.” I groan at our collective ignorance, and our failure to live up to one person’s expectations—the one who alone has the right to expect much of us, because we claim to be sanctioned by his blood offering.

I groan for those of us who think racism is dead, failing to realize that it’s very much alive in our Facebook feeds.

Sometimes, Ferguson, I wonder just how far we’ve come. Do our people even hear us on Sundays?

Listening is a reflex, but hearing is an art. Oh, may we learn the language of artful hearing once more.

We’re not “modern man.” Despite our epic leaps—and there are many—it’s days like today where I’m convinced we’re just animals with computer screens for toys. We’re Cain pointing a finger at Able saying, “He deserved it,” while ignoring the blood on our hands from the safety of our couches hundreds of miles from you, Ferguson.

It is the epitome of gossip to think we have any right to an opinion of who you are, Ferguson, unless we live with you. Among you. Bleeding with you. And we’re sorry. For coming to our own conclusions so far from your doorstep. For failing to spend even ten minutes in prayer for your borders, your families, your leaders.

It’s in the cacophony of civil unrest that the will of society is revealed, it’s just that the majority rarely think they’re the ones under examination.

I may not be a pastor of many people, Ferguson, but I’m a pastor of people who matter. My voice may not be as loud as some who need to be saying something as spiritual leaders of our nation. But it has at least a little volume. To call people to remember they’re Christians, not Republicans or Democrats. Christians. That do the things Jesus did.

I’m praying for you, Ferguson. For ten minutes right now. It’s the least I can do as a Christian.

Groaning,

Christopher Hopper

Audible Narrator Announced for The Sky Riders: David Rheinstrom

The Sky Riders Christopher Hopper Audible Narrator David Rheinstrom (large)

I’m so thrilled to announce my partnership with voice over artist and narrator David Rheinstrom as Junar ap Leif in Book 1 of The Sky Riders. He’s a gifted voice actor, writer and game developer based out of Chicago, Illinois.

After many months of looking and waiting, I felt David’s audition not only captured the enthusiasm and adolescent dilemmas of Junar’s journey but the inflections of each supporting character, which is just as important to me. Feel free to drop him a note on Facebook.

For those of you who’ve already read TSR, I hope you find the Audible book a fresh companion for the story you’ve already come to love. For those who haven’t, get ready for a theatrical narration of an unforgettable journey above the clouds of Aria-Prime.

Christopher

Doesn’t Modern Worship Miss God?

No, not unless it’s telling you to miss God.

New Life (Colorado Springs, CO) worship leader Glenn Packiam is in the middle of a great two-part piece about modern worship, entitled “The Problem With Our Critique of Modern Worship.” Whether you’re a worship leader or a worshiper (hey, that’s every Christian) I would recommend reading it.

I know why Glenn’s writing this. It’s the same reason I would write something like this. Because when you’re in a place of leadership in an evangelical Christian church, every congregant has an opinion of how church should run, and their way is inevitably the “right way.” Much of this stems around the worship style.

Because we’re Christians, we can’t just tell people their ideas are stupid (even though plenty are). We need to be kind. And because we’re leaders, we must have a thoughtful response.

With regard to modern worship style and contexts, some people feel it’s missing God. They ask questions like, “Why do we need lights?” and “What’s up with all that bass?” which inevitably leads to “Are we running a rock concert or a church service?”

Assuming you already paused long enough to read Glenn’s article, his first point citing where critics often accuse modern songs of having “too many eruptions of repetitive monosyllabic sounds” is brilliant.

“Because it’s Biblical.”

And he brings in quotes from Fuller Seminary’s Old Testament professor John Goldingay to make the point. What might surprise many Christians today is that ancient Hebrew worship music was even more rhythmic and less melodic than anything we have today. And, if I might add from a modal study, our music has far more major chord voicings than anything they used in Middle East traditions, past or present.

But I’d like to offer a few additions to Glenn’s second point regarding the common accusation that our services are “too much like a rock concert.” Glenn does a great job of discerning how Christians can “inhabit the form” of something from the world while not being of the world. Like metaphor and diverse expression, the Church is a wonderful vehicle for an array of communications.

Here’s some more food for thought.

Firstly, what is so bad about a rock concert? Or any concert for that matter? Somewhere, the term “rock concert” has become synonymous in certain Christian circles as being “of the devil.”

News flash, and I know this might be a shocker, but I’ve been to hundreds of rock concerts and I’ve never seen the devil. I’ve never been encouraged to worship the devil. And I’ve never felt the devil. Granted, I may not have gone to the “proper rock concerts” to experience this, but even that proves my point: not all rock concerts are bad, and similarly, not all church services are good. So making a broad generalization is poor grounds for any argument.

Secondly, I’ve seen some amazing things in rock concerts. I’ve seen how lights can be used to minimize distractions and draw a crowd’s attention to something important. I’ve seen how quality mixing, thorough sound reinforcement, and poignant visual and video effects can provide an audience with a memorable, life-altering experience that they’ll never forget.

Isn’t that exactly what we’re trying to do in the church?

So if the question isn’t one of style, but really—if we’re being honest—of content, then what are we promoting with all this technology?

I’m not sure about your church, if it falls into the “modern worship” context or not, but yesterday at mine, our worship leaders talked incessantly about Jesus, lead the church in songs about him, shared scriptures from his Bible, exhorted the church to pray and intercede for the perishing in our community, and prayed for the congregation.

Huh. I’ve never been to a rock concert where that happened. Unless you’re talking about a CCM concert, which I don’t think that’s what critics are trying to cite as evidence.

The truth is, I’ve been to secular rock shows where the front man was more humble than some pastors I’ve met on a Sunday morning. Again, not all, just some. Content always trumps environment.

Why am I so stumped when critics draw the awkward and ill-informed rock concert comparison? Because they’re choosing to use broad strokes when really all they need to say is, “I don’t like electric guitars.” Now at least that would be an honest, accurate statement that we could have a discussion about. Or just say, “I’m always going to think that things were better [in whatever decade they were saved in].” I can work with that! I’m sure that I’ll always think the 90’s were the best. (But they really weren’t).

When we use stereotypes in place of facts, it’s usually because we have not thought out our arguments and believe that generalizations will further impassion our plea. The opposite is true: they undermine our arguments and turn well-meaning people into cause-driven fanatics.

If we’re going to critique anything, let it be whether or not we see the love of Jesus at work among his people. Whether or not we see people using their creative gifts to full effect in directing attention to God and creating an unforgettable experience for others. And whether or not people walk away remembering how exciting it is to see “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).

Somewhere Over The Rainbow – Jennifer Hopper (Video)

There was a ukelele.

There was a beach on O’ahu.

There was a pretty girl who knew Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s rendition of the greatest song of the twentieth century.

And there was a guy with a camera.

It was destiny.

From Whence Beauty Came

A culture that values beauty, values life. One of our goals as leaders should be to teach the appreciation of beautiful things.

When we see significance in the complexity of creation as well as in the self discipline of creating, we esteem art to a place of tremendous influence.

Where media was but a mixture of molecules and actions, it is now an expression of something divine, testifying to the life which brought it to bear upon the sole of the recipient.

If a people can learn what is beautiful by appreciating what makes something lovely, that people will embrace the subject from which that beauty came more freely.

Man.

And then God.

Changing One

I remember walking the grassy fields of Auschwitz in the summer of 2002, trying to contemplate just how many millions of people had perished there.

A million people is a hard concept to grasp.

Millions of people even harder.

And that these lives hadn’t lived and died in the naturally occurring order of life, but instead were brutally snuffed out, was an almost unthinkable equation.

“You can’t think of them as millions,” said Vincent Fernandez, sensing my obvious frustration. Vincent has become a man who Jennifer I consider our French Pastor and our French PaPa. And for good reason: leaders that call great things out of you and challenge you to higher realms of being deserve such titles. “You must think of them as one, plus one, plus one.”

He took a few steps and then turned around. “And everywhere you set your foot, you must remember that someone died there.”

“One, plus one, plus one.”

I wept bitterly. The millions had stopped being numbers and started being people.

Like most tourists who visit her hallowed grounds, Auschwitz changed me. Deeply. The moments I spent there have bled into the rest of my life, namely this:

We change the world when we change one life. Because life is made up of ones.

Christopher

Arresting Our Perspectives

Sometimes our perspectives need arresting. The out-of-control, self-centric world view that plagues those of us who live amongst the earth’s most affluent societies is a beast that needs constant taming.

The fix is quite simple really: force your sane self to show your perspective-less self the images and stories that your bad attitude conveniently missed.

Like this one, posted recently by one of my friends:

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Hey, you there. Reader. You had a really good day today. Now go find someone to encourage.

Brittany’s Dying Later Today

How would you live today if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?

What would you do this week if you knew by the end of next week that you wouldn’t be around?

Sobering questions.

For Brittany Maynard, she’s dying November 1st. That’s today. I don’t know Brittany, and at first blush, I can’t say I agree with her logic. But I’m also not the one whose brain is being taken over by the most aggressive form of cancer known to man. Pain is a cruel tormentor.

I don’t know what I’d do in those shoes, because I’m not wearing them, and most speculation is trivial at best, insulting at worst. I’d like to think I’d pray, ask for prayer, and believe God for a miracle. I’d like to think I’d see some relief. But as Rocky said, “No one hits as hard as life.”

At some point today, Brittany will be dead, and a family will be suffering. But her last ‘bucket list’ item was checked off this week: to see the Grand Canyon with her family.

Maybe we don’t live the way we should because the elusiveness of our expiration date dulls the sense that we’re slowly advancing toward it? Maybe because we can’t mark it on a calendar we’re more prone to ignore it, because it’s gruesome. Sad. Distasteful.

Value your life today. While you may not know the exact day you’re going to die, the death rate for every generation is 100% (minus Jesus and maybe Enoch).

And value your life enough today to dwell on where you’ll be when it’s over. I’m not sure if Brittany knows Jesus, but he certainly knows her and if grieving for her. I hope beyond all hope someone told her about his love and sacrifice, because I’d really like to see her smiling on the other side of cancer.

“Live like you were dying.”

-Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman

And for the Christian, we’ve already died once. So living this time around removes the sting of death.

Live on.

Mentor Up

Not sure if you know this, but someone’s following you.

Right now.

Don’t look around. They might not be in the same room as you. But they’re there.

They’re thinking about you, watching your social media posts, observing you in church, glancing at you across the office. Whether you know it or not, and whether they know it or not, you’re mentoring somebody.

As Jody Maberry so precisely put it this week, there are actually five different kinds of mentors. So maybe you perceive that your lack of social standing precludes you from being a Classic Mentor. Fair enough. But what if you’re someone else’s Shadow Mentor, or my personal favorite, their Anti-Mentor? (Cue new Super Villain theme music).

Not only do we need mentors personally (a post for another day, or just read Jody), but we need mentors so we can continue to mentor those we’re mentoring. Because the sub-humanoid life form in the high chair across from you is tracking your every move.

Mentor up. It could mean everything to the people who’re following in your footsteps.

Beauty Has Motion

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To watch someone make the difficult look effortless is the epitome of artistic affluence. To watch a performer act as if each participant is the only person in the room is transcendent. I love watching my wife do what she was born for. 1,000 little hearts were impacted today in ways we’ll never know this side of glory. Partnership is a gift to be treated reverently. #CampusImpressions

Leadership Tactics

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One of yesterday’s highlights was having US Army Operations Officer Zack Wiley bring his wealth of knowledge to our table at New Life. Very humbling to have man that organizes operations and logistics for an entire battalion honor us with his insight. Translating it to the church world is exciting and inspiring, and Zack’s love for the Bride of Christ is contagious. Just one of the many blessings of serving in a military city.

Learning how to serve people better means finding new people to learn from.

What Gratitude Does

I’ve never met a thankful person who had a bad day.

Ungratefulness is like a blindness that leads us down the path of depravity until we’re trapped in the clutches of entitlement.

Take today and start thanking God for the minutia in your life. It changes attitudes quickly. When I start putting my life in context of the rest of the world, I come face to face with how ungrateful I really am. Every problem I have is a First World problem. Which calls me from wallowing in self pity to engaging with the mission of God for my life in the kingdom.

God, thank you for this glass of water.

God, thank you for this light switch and the lightbulb on the other end.

God, thank you for this countertop, this stove top, this table top.

When I’m having really “bad days,” I actually touch everything I’m thanking God for, this way my prefrontal cortex and my physical body are making the connections about what my spirt is trying to remind my flesh of: that I’m blessed beyond belief.

Once gratefulness has a firm seat in your heart, you can approach the mission of God for your life without the need to get anything from it for yourself. You’re simply concerned with one thing:

What does God get out of my day today?

And a close second:

What do others get out of my day today?